The 2014 Winemaker Challenge Judges

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Amy Butler
Ranchero Cellars
Paso Robles, California

Amy is a specialist in the Rhone grape varieties that are so successful and popular in California's Central Coast, particularly the Paso Robles region. Amy first caught our attention as the winemaker for Edward Sellers in Paso, and she judged at our debut Winemaker Challenge in 2010. Amy now makes wine under her own brand, Ranchero Cellars.

Jac Cole
Winemaking Consultant
Napa Valley, California

Jac has been making wine in the Napa Valley for more than 20 years, with stints at Charles Krug and Spring Mountain over a distinguished career. He currently consults and also makes wine for the Naked Wines project. Jac will be returning as a judge at Winemaker Challenge for the fourth time in the five years of this wine competition.

Ken Deis
Winemaking Consultant
Napa Valley, California

Ken is a veteran Napa Valley winemaker with a long string of exceptional vintages to his credit. That's because he spent more than a quarter-century at Flora Springs, where he made outstanding Bordeaux-style blends (Trilogy) as well as top-notch Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. Ken now has his own winemaking consulting business and recently judged for us at the 2012 San Diego International Wine Competition.
 

 

Gary Eberle
Eberle Winery
Paso Robles, California

He is quite simply the Godfather of Paso Robles wine. Gary was the genius who introduced syrah to Paso while making wine at the family winery, Estrella River, in the early 1970s. Since starting his own winery more than 25 years ago he's introduced viognier and a red rhone blend, too. But it's the Paso cabernet that nearly brings a tear to the big man's eye. Gary believes passionately that cabernet sauvignon from Paso Robles is as good as any being made. Visit the winery sometime and talk him out of a bottle of one of the older Eberle Estate cabs and, we promise you, the case will be closed!

 

Sara Fowler
Peju Province
Napa Valley, California

Sara will be making her debut as a judge at Winemaker Challenge IV, and we think her appearance is long overdue! Sara was Associate Winemaker for seven years at Mt. Veeder and Franciscan, also in the Napa Valley, before joining Peju to direct the winemaking team there in 2006. She's a specialist of the first order in Bordeaux-inspired varietal wines and blends.

 

Jeff Gaffner
Saxon Brown Wines
Sonoma, California

Jeff will be making his debut as a judge at Winemaker Challenge but we are very familiar here with his accomplishments as winemaker at Saxon Brown, where he produces small batches of very, very good wine, in particular his Semillon and Cabernet Sauvignon. Jeff also is in demand as a winemaking consultant and has made the stellar Pinot Noirs for Black Kite in the Anderson Valley and wonderful Cabernet Sauvignons and Bordeaux-style blends for the Stephanie label in the Napa Valley.
 

Daryl Groom
Groom Wines
Barossa Valley, Australia

Daryl is a star winemaker among a galaxy of star winemakers. He was once the chief winemaker for Penfolds Grange, Australia's most sought-after and honored red wine, and now makes a line of wines under his own Groom banner. Splitting his time between Australia and California, Daryl also produces the acclaimed Colby Red, a beautiful $12 red wine that was inspired by his son Colby, with a portion of the profits going to heart research.
 

Joe Hart
Hart Winery
Temecula, California

Joe has been making wine in Temecula close to 30 years now and he's a distinguished veteran of the California wine competition circuit. Joe is best known for his Syrah, but he's really a man for all seasons, so you never know what you might find in those barrels when you visit his small Temecula winery.
 

Vernon Kindred
Fallbrook Winery
Fallbrook, California

Vernon is now in his fourth year Fallbrook Winery, which may well be the finest in Southern California. Fallbrook's Bordeaux blend, BDX, was voted top Bordeaux blend at the 2011 Winemaker Challenge, and its Sauvignon Blanc has been a consistent medal-winner at all of the Challenge competitions.

 

Craig Kritzer
Frogtown Cellars
Lumpkin County, Georgia

Craig is a native of Atlanta who went west into the hills of Lumpkin County, Georgia, to find a spot where he could craft world-class wines. His Bordeaux, Burgundy and Rhone-inspired wines have been consistent winners in the Challenge series of wine competitions, so it seemed only natural that we would invite this talented winemaker to join us for the Winemaker Challenge.

 

Adam LaZarre
LaZarre Wines
Paso Robles, California

No California winemaker has done more in the arena of value over the past decade than Adam. He was on board when Monterey County's Hahn Estates affected a huge turnaround, making superb red and white wines in the $12 to $18 price range. Wines so good that they often took Best of Show awards at top wine competitions throughout the state, including the highest honors in Los Angeles, San Diego and Monterey. He then moved on to Villa San-Juliette in Paso Robles, where he made a dynamite merlot and a killer red Bordeaux blend, among other things. Adam is now focused on making wine under his own label.  In his spare time he consults on a white wine project in Spain's Rueda district.

 

Susan Lueker
Simi Winery
Healdsburg, California

Susan is Director of Winemaking at Simi, long considered one of California's benchmark wineries. Situated in the heart of Sonoma County wine country, surrounded by the Alexander Vallley, Russian River Valley and Dry Creek Valley, Susan is expert at making top-notch Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, and she's a welcome addition to our team of judges. This is Susan's second Winemaker Challenge.

 

Andre Mack

Mouton Noir Wines
Oregon

Andre is a certified sommelier who decided to take the plunge and make wine, creating Mouton Noir Wines as a boutique winery focused on Pinot Noir from Oregon, and a lovely dry rose made from Pinot Noir grapes. Andre was at the peak of his profession, working the floor as a sommelier at Thomas Keller's Manhattan restaurant, Per Se, when he made the leap to winemaking. We love his wines, but we also continue to value his sommelier skills and bring him to San Diego every year for the annual Sommelier Challenge.


Maureen Martin
Clos du Bois Winery
Geyserville, California

Maureen is a 20-years-plus veteran of the Sonoma County wine industry, the first 10 years at Chateau Souverain and the past 11 at Clos du Bois, where Chardonnay and Merlot are king! Maureen also makes a dynamite Bordeaux-style blend, and excellent Sauvignon Blanc. This will be Maureen's third Winemaker Challenge.

 

Ben Mayo

Eberle Winery
Paso Robles, California

Ben is the hand behind the great success of the Eberle Winery in recent years. Since founder Gary Eberle decided to retire from the chores and stress of the day-to-day winemaking at Eberle, Ben has followed in Gary's footsteps with vintage after vintage that are benchmark for Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, as well as some fine Zinfandels, Chardonnay, Sangiovese and a delicious Muscat Canelli. Eberle Winery was honored recently as Winery of the Year at the Central Coast wine competition. It's just one of the many accolades that have come under Ben's watch over the Eberle wine cellar.

 

Kim McPherson
McPherson Cellars
Lubbock, Texas

Kim grew up in a winemaking family. His father, Doc, was considered father of the modern Texas wine inustry and was the longtime winemaker at the groundbreaking Llano Estacado Winery. His brother, Jon, is winemaker for South Coast Winery in Temecula, which has been named California winery of the year three times at the California State Fair. And his own wines at McPherson Cellars often stand out as the benchmarks for quality in Texas wine. Kim will return as a judge at Winemaker Challenge for the second consecutive year.

 

Marcus Notaro
Stags Leap Wine Cellars
Napa Valley, California

In recent years Marcus was responsible for some of the most dynamic wines in America, the Col Solare wines from Washington's Yakima Valley. But he has accepted a new challenge and recently moved to the Napa Valley to take over the winemaking reins at Stags Leap Wine Cellars, one of the most high-profile positions in American Wine. Marcus is currently working his first harvest at Stags Leap and we wish him all the best.

 

Mike Richmond
Bouchaine Vineyards
Carneros, California

Mike was among the first to pioneer Pinot Noir in California when he was involved with the startup of Acacia Vineyards in the Carneros District of the Napa Valley a quarter-century ago. He's now at Bouchaine and making some of the most delicious and well-balanced Pinots and Chardonnays in all of California. This will be Mike's third appearance as a judge at Winemaker Challenge.

 

Ed Sbragia
Sbragia Family Wines
Healdsburg, California

Big Ed was the chief winemaker at Beringer Vineyards for more than a quarter-century. While at Berginer he twice earned Wine of the Year recognition from The Wine Spectator, making him the only winemaker to have captured that honor twice. Ed has since moved on and opened his own winery in Sonoma County, where he specializes in vineyard-designate Cabernet Sauvignons and barrel-fermented Sauvignon Blanc.
 

David Stevens
Davon International
Napa Valley, California

David is an international winemaking consultant who trots the globe helping make better wine. In another life he was winemaker at Napa's Bouchaine Vineyards, and before that worked closely with Dawnine Dyer as a winemaker at the Napa sparkling wine producer Domaine Chandon. He also worked in the cellars at  Freemark Abbey winery in St. Helena. David is a regular at the annual San Diego international wine competition, where he frequently heads up the sparkling wine panel.

 

David Vergari
Thornton Winery
Temecula, California

While studying Enology and Viticulture at UC Davis, David Vergari interned at Sonoma-Cutrer and The Hess Collection in Napa Valley, and worked abroad at Coldstream Hills in Australia and Covisa in Spain. Landing back in California, David worked his way up to Research Enologist at Joseph Phelps Vineyard before moving to Rutz Cellars in the Russian River Valley.  David ascribes his life-long interest in wine at least in part to his Italian ancestry. His first memory of wine goes back to when he was five years old, in his great-uncle’s cellar in San Francisco.  In his twenties he worked as a financial analyst, but winemaking was in his blood, and inevitably changed careers and follow his passion.

 

Duncan Williams
Falkner Winery
Temecula, California

Robert Mondavi provided Duncan Williams with his first work experience in the wine industry, followed by time at  Montevina Winery in the Sierra Foothills.  He was Cellarmaster for 14 years at Shenandoah Vineyards and Sobon Estates.  In 2001 he joined Fallbrook Winery, helping lead it to national recognition and distribution.  He has judged at international wine competitions and is a contributor to the San Diego Union Tribune's Wine Column.  Now at Falkner Winery, Duncan will share his passion for wine, a passion carried over half his lifetime.

 


Judges' Concierges

Judges' concierges Brooke and Sheila Clark.

Brooke & Sheila Clark


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